Luna Rossa leads Team UK 5-1 in AmCup challenger final

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New Zealand Herald

Britain's INEOS Team UK, right, leads Italy's Luna Rossa to win race six of the Prada Cup on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (Dean Purcell/NZ Herald via AP)

After a week of storms ashore Ineos Team UK won one of two races sailed in a shifting breeze Saturday to raise the faint hint of a comeback in the America’s Cup challenger series final against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

As racing resumed after a week’s delay, Luna Rossa won the fifth race of the Prada Cup final by 1 minute, 20 seconds to lead 5-0 in the first-to-seven series. Faced with the possibility of match point, Team UK expertly called the shifts to win the second race by 14 seconds and keep the series alive after six races.

Two races on Sunday will decide whether Britain’s Team UK continues in the series or whether Italy’s Luna Rossa wins its way into next month’s America’s Cup match against defender Emirates Team New Zealand.

“No high fives yet,” Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni said after the first race of the day with the prescience of a sailor who knows nothing can be taken for granted in the America’s Cup. In 2013 Oracle Team USA came from 8-1 down in the Cup match to beat Team New Zealand 9-8 in one of the great comebacks in sport.

All the evidence of Saturday’s racing seemed to suggest, and British skipper Sir Ben Ainslie admitted, Luna Rossa is faster than Team UK’s Britannia in a straight line in light winds. But the second race of the day showed the advantage held by a leading boat: Team UK was ahead at the first cross for the first first time in the series and, sailed flawlessly, was able to stay there.

“The guys did a great job," Ainslie said. "They’re not going to give up these boys, they’re going to keep fighting all the way.”

Team UK wasn’t happy to be racing Saturday in mostly light winds which favored its opponent and its win was more impressive in those circumstances.

“I think, and most people can see, that at 13 knots and above the boats are pretty even,” Ainslie said. “But underneath that we struggle.